Why is third grade such a critical year for reading?

Boy sitting with books.Third grade marks an important time in a child’s education as they move from what is often known as the “lower grades” to the “upper grades.” It is a critical time in students’ learning as they become more independent readers and learners. Being at “grade level” is important at any age, but third grade is the crucial year when students make the leap from learning to read to reading to learn.

From a teacher’s perspective, reading instruction at the third grade level focuses on teaching students how to think and talk about what they read in deeper and more detailed ways. As children progress through the grades, the text and tasks that are being asked of them are longer and more complex. Students are expected to read different types of literature with much more nonfiction text being used. In addition they are asked to write and talk about what they are learning, including developing their own points of view about what they are reading. Students who have trouble understanding what they read find it very difficult to keep up, become frustrated when they try to tackle schoolwork, and for some students, this leads to years of difficulty in school.

To combat these difficulties, Iowa has an early warning system to identify reading concerns before they become a problem. Schools across the state use universal screening tools to pinpoint students at-risk for reading difficulties. Tests to monitor a student’s progress are used to determine if the adjustments the teacher is making in the classroom are making a difference. Parents that have concerns about their child’s reading should talk to their child’s teacher to develop a plan for their reading needs. This may include things to work on at home as well as the help that will be given in school. Local Area Education Agencies (AEA) also have resources to support teachers and parents in the goal for reading success for students.

There are activities that can be done at home to help create strong readers as well. By reading aloud to children, making sure they have access to books, and promoting positive attitudes about reading and writing, adults can have a powerful impact on children’s literacy and learning. Some ways that promote the love of reading and literacy are listed here. Simply invite a child to read with you every day, letting them hear or read their favorite book over and over again.

While reading a book, point word by word, which helps the child learn that reading goes from left to right, and to understand that the word that is spoken is the word that is seen on the page. Reading books with rhyming words and lines that repeat and inviting the child to join in on these parts helps them to learn sounds and word parts. Discussing new words and stopping to ask about the pictures and about what is happening in the story builds vocabulary and understanding. When reading, choose from an assortment of children’s books, including fairy tales, songbooks, poems, and information books.

When adults work together to give children the skills and tools needed to succeed, they begin to love reading and learning and will be on track for the challenges of third grade and beyond.

Kim Swartz, AEA 267 Assistant Director of Educational Services

Kim Swartz, AEA 267 Assistant Director of Educational Services

Kim Swartz is the Assistant Director of Educational Services with Area Education Agency 267 (AEA 267). She can be reached at kswartz@aea267k12.ia.us

AEA 267 serves over 65,000 students. In addition, over 5,000 educators rely on AEA 267 for services in special education, school technology, media and instructional/curriculum support. The agency’s service area reaches 18 counties and nearly 9,000 square miles. Learn more at www.aea267.k12.ia.us

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